AUSTRALIA’S Attorney-General George Brandis has warned if the Labor party do not support going ahead with a plebiscite on marriage equality the issue might not be resolved until the mid-2020s.
A talk between Brandis and Labor politicians to negotiate terms of a potential plebiscite – Labor wanted the public vote to be binding and for the government to withdraw a combined $15 million of funding for the yes and no campaigns – broke down yesterday, but it is still not clear if Labor will block plebiscite enabling legislation.
There are now 24 bills – including the plebiscite bill – in parliament relating to marriage equality, but if history has taught us anything the issue might be a long way off being decided once and for all.
Many advocates argue a plebiscite would be harmful to the LGBTI community because of the hateful debate it would incite, including NSW’s health organisation ACON, who in conjunction with the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW yesterday released a review into health impacts of marriage denial on LGB people.
“The higher rates of mental health issues and suicidality in LGBTI communities make these groups more vulnerable to the potentially negative rhetoric that may arise in the prolonged national debate on this issue,” said Professor Carla Treloar from the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW.
However, the LGBTI community has already come under attack many times over the past few months and that is without the confirmation of a plebiscite begging the question; should the LGBTI community concede and allow a public vote to happen and will it be the surest way to achieve marriage equality?
Speaking on the ABC’s The Drum program on Monday, the Sydney Morning Herald’s senior writer, Deborah Snow said it was incumbent on both sides of politics to work harder to reach an agreement on the issue.
“I, like most Australians enraged at this Punch and Judy show over same-sex marriage,” she said.
“We’re effectively having the kind of build up to a plebiscite debate that you’re going to have, whether you have one or not.
“All the disapproval, all the tactics are already being trotted out. And that toxic environment that Labor says it’s trying to avoid, I think is actually being generated to some extent by the failure of the two side of politics to act like grown ups.”
Star Observer reached out to a number of members of Australia’s LGBTI community to find out if they believe it is time to agree to a plebiscite on marriage equality.
Sydney lawyer Michael Tiyce said Australia has a lot to learn from Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality.
“The plebiscite may not be my preferred option however the government was elected on a platform supporting it, and won while the Greens and Labor ran on platforms opposing it and lost,” he said.
“There will not be people crossing the floor on this issue-there is going to be a plebiscite, it can occur on February 11 2017 as a specific issue, or at the next Federal election, and if Bill Shorten is defeated then the cause of marriage is over until the next election three years later.
“People should remember the lesson from Ireland-institutionalised discrimination against our community was defeated because the people of Ireland united around it and rejected the message of those who sought to divide the country. That is what we should be looking forward to in Australia-an opportunity to show we are a united and inclusive country, and that everyday Australians reject the toxic divisive message of religious fundamentalists.”
Veteran gay activist and editor of The Stirrer, Doug Pollard said LGBTI people should not be afraid of Brandis’ “scaremongering” because he is trying to pin the blame for any failure to pass marriage equality in this parliament on Labor.
“In reality, if the plebiscite doesn’t happen, there will be plenty of LNP MPs terrified of facing the voters next election, having made no progress on the issue,” he said.
“If we stay firm and refuse the plebiscite, these MPs will become a powerful counterforce to the mad right wingers trying to keep us unequal, and will press Turnbull very hard for a free vote. In the words of the Hitchhikers’ Guide (to the Galaxy), don’t panic! Don’t be scared into accepting a plebiscite. Hold your nerve, and we can win a free vote in this parliament.
“A long-time lesbian activist friend told me: ‘You know things are off the scale in a big way when the rusted on dykes are furiously sending out emails across the country telling the sisterhood to put whatever views you have on marriage aside today and lobby like hell to stop this plebiscite. At least the dykes have their boots on and if anything can stop this disaster they can’.”
Journalist Kate Doak said while marriage equality is an important step forward, “it is only one measure amongst many which needs to be acted upon in order to ensure that the LGBTI community is equal to their heterosexual peers, regardless of race, religion, age or gender”.
“Politics nearly always contains an element of compromise, no matter what the legislation being presented is,” she said.
“While conducting a national plebiscite on marriage equality may be far less preferable than passing legislation in parliament like the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act was, there are potential provisions that could make the conduct of such an activity more civil for all parties concerned, if a national vote is ultimately forced upon us.”
While poet and Gomeroi woman Alison Whittaker is critical of the institute of marriage she believes there are more important ways of engaging in this issue than ballot democracy.
“I’m also wary of the vitriol that can come from artificially inflating the ‘no’ camp by giving them equal funding or equal airtime – and again, for no good reason. Voting on rights for any marginalised group should be a last resort,” she said.
“I think even a successful ‘yes’ vote could do the same rush of majority sentiment that Indigenous people experience with the Recognise debate or Reconciliation – where all our other concerns fall to the side because there’s a public smugness about gesture politics.”
OII Australia co-chair Tony Briffa is completely opposed to the plebiscite believing Brandis is being completely disingenuous in claiming to support marriage equality and the federal election did not provide a community view that the public want a costly and divisive plebiscite.
“I am completely opposed to the plebiscite and think Mr Brandis is being completely disingenuous in claiming to support marriage equality,” Briffa said.